The University of Wisconsin Press

Gay & Lesbian Interest / Memoir / American Studies


Gay Bar
The Fabulous, True Story of a Daring Woman and Her Boys in the 1950s
Will Fellows and Helen P. Branson

“Will Fellows uncovers a remarkable time capsule of how gay folks lived and gathered a half-century ago in a small bar on Melrose in Los Angeles, interweaving the remarkable charm of bar owner Helen Branson’s 1957 memoir with his own deft cultural analysis.”
—Tim Miller, performer and author of Body Blows and 1001 Beds

Outstanding Book, Public Library Association
•Best Books for High Schools, American Association of School Libraries

Vivacious, unconventional, candid, and straight, Helen Branson operated a gay bar in Los Angeles in the 1950s—America’s most anti-gay decade. After years of fending off drunken passes as an entertainer in cocktail bars, this divorced grandmother preferred the wit, variety, and fun she found among homosexual men. Enjoying their companionship and deploring their plight, she gave her gay friends a place to socialize. Though at the time California statutes prohibited homosexuals from gathering in bars, Helen’s place was relaxed, suave, and remarkably safe from police raids and other anti-homosexual hazards. In 1957 she published her extraordinary memoir Gay Bar, the first book by a heterosexual to depict the lives of homosexuals with admiration, respect, and love.

In this new edition of Gay Bar, Will Fellows interweaves Branson’s chapters with historical perspective provided through his own insightful commentary and excerpts gleaned from letters and essays appearing in gay publications of the period. Also included is the original introduction to the book by maverick 1950s psychiatrist Blanche Baker. The eclectic selection of voices gives the flavor of American life in that extraordinary age of anxiety, revealing how gay men saw themselves and their circumstances, and how others perceived them.

“This incredible inside look of a gay bar in 1950s Los Angeles, owned and operated by a straight woman, Helen P. Branson, reflects our gay history as well as Los Angeles culture. Writer Will Fellows adds commentary and historical perspective in this fascinating memoir that was written in 1957.” —Frontiers

Author Will Fellows - Photo credit: Brian DallyWill Fellows is author of the pathbreaking, acclaimed books Farm Boys: Lives of Gay Men from the Rural Midwest and A Passion to Preserve: Gay Men as Keepers of Culture, both published by the University of Wisconsin Press. He lives in Milwaukee.

Photo credit: Brian Dally

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The Fabulous, True Story of a Daring Woman

October 2010

LC: 2010011528 HQ
194 pp.   6 x 9
5 b/w photos, 2 drawings

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Cloth $26.95 t
ISBN 978-0-299-24850-5
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“Fascinating, poignant, hilarious, and eye-opening. Fellows adds depth, detail, and insight to Branson’s groundbreaking original work.”
—Philip Gambone, author of Travels in a Gay Nation


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Updated May 2, 2012

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